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Thursday, May 23, 2024

RALEIGH, N.C. - After all the UF women's basketball team had been through, it's hard to imagine a worse end to the season.

Just a year removed from an awful 9-22 campaign that resulted in Carolyn Peck's firing, the Gators had made a lot of progress, just narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament and securing a first-round bye in the National Invitation Tournament.

All of that was hard to remember Thursday night.

The game that ended UF's season fittingly showed all of its flaws along the way.

The Gators (19-14) started slow, shot poorly and missed numerous defensive assignments on their way to a 80-55 rout at the hands of North Carolina State (20-12) in the WNIT third round. UF fell to 5-9 away from home this season.

"For all that we've accomplished and for how far we've come and all the positives we have to look back on, it's just not a fitting end to the season," UF coach Amanda Butler said.

It seems the Gators didn't get out the cobwebs like they thought they had in a 60-55 squeaker past Florida Gulf Coast on Monday.

UF led for only 19 seconds, made only 32.8 percent of its shots and allowed N.C. State to shoot 46 percent. In addition, the Gators made only 2 of 11 3-pointers, just three days after a dismal 1-for-17 performance against Florida Gulf Coast.

While the game was likely out of reach by the half, when UF trailed 40-25, the Gators' start to the second half clinched their fate. They scored only 7 points in the first 10:54 after halftime.

Perhaps the toughest part - no one can put their finger on why this happened.

Lone senior Depree Bowden scored 10 points on 5-of-11 shooting in her last game donning the Orange and Blue. Bowden re-entered the game in the second half, even after twisting her ankle, despite the game's outcome likely being sealed.

"I didn't expect it to end like this," Bowden said. "We just didn't start off from the get-go like we wanted to win. We had people playing like they were scared or timid."

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Junior guard Sha Brooks, who scored a team-high 16 points on 5-of-19 shooting, didn't have much else to add.

"I would say we lost this game ourselves," Brooks said. "We just did a lot of things wrong."

When pressed for any possible reason, she lamented, "I don't even know what really happened."

Butler, however, had some idea that this might happen. Butler said the team had less intense practices the last two days. But her team had a good shoot-around before playing the Wolfpack and she had hoped her team had snapped out of it.

"Clearly, I was wrong," she said.

UF played predominantly zone defense while the game's outcome was still up for grabs, but N.C. State dissected it with passing time after time. Zones are designed to force their opponents to shoot from the outside, but the Wolfpack got easy layups and close jump shots.

"It was very clear that we were going to have a hard time guarding (Wolfpack forward Khadijah) Whittington one-on-one," said Butler, explaining the decision to stay zone. "It was tough for us to guard them one-on-one, because offensively, they were just so much more aggressive then we were defensively."

With the off-season looming, UF will be left with a bittersweet memory to the end of a very positive season.

"Why is the big question," Butler said. "I don't know; maybe it's a lack of experience on my part not being able to answer the question. I know that it's disappointing."

That disappointment will be the last memory the Gators have until next October.

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